Together Together

So, I just learned about this movie today. The movie has a 92% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. It is defined as a comedy and I did LOL at some moments in the youtube movie trailer. The short summary of the movie’s plot is this – A young loner becomes a surrogate mother for a single, middle-aged man who wants a child. Their unexpected relationship soon challenges their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.

I do have feelings about surrogacy and have know of some surrogate pregnancies. Since learning so much about baby’s bonding with the mother who is carrying them in her womb, I am honestly not in favor of it. I do know of one case of a woman’s mother being the surrogate for her daughter who could not carry to term. I am okay with that situation, especially because “grandma” will be in that baby’s life.

According to a Roger Ebert review – You go into (the movie) thinking you know what you’re getting into, and feeling impatient or dismissive as a result, because the movie conspicuously makes choices that seem intended to announce which boxes it’s about to check off. Then it keeps confounding you—in a way that’s understated rather than show-offy—until you have to accept it on its own terms. It’s the perfect storytelling tactic for a movie about a surrogate mother and her patron, a divorced man 20 years her senior. The main characters don’t fully appreciate each other until they quit trying to categorize their relationship and let it be whatever it’s going to be, while trying not obsess over what’ll happen once the baby is born. 

As it turns out, this is not the kind of film where the leads overcome social obstacles and live happily every after as husband and wife. In fact, it turns out to be a rare film about two characters you’ve never seen in a movie. They initially seem cut from middling romantic comedy cloth.  Matt and Anna quickly disclose shared feelings of loneliness and aloneness (different concepts) and talk about their troubled pasts. 

Matt’s marriage collapsed but he decided to have a kid anyway, using his own sperm and a donated egg. Anna got pregnant in college, gave the baby up for adoption, and earned the double-ire of her parents, who considered her a failure both for having an unplanned pregnancy and not keeping the kid. As with any donor conception, it’s complicated. Money is involved. Just don’t expect an ending that answers the question: Now what ?

But then – What’s Love Got To Do With It ? Just for fun . . . .

Against The Odds

A little over 20 years ago, after 10 years of marriage, my husband decided he wanted to become a father after all. True, he had been glad I had already given birth to a daughter, so there was no pressure on him because I had already been there, done that. Imagine my surprise when over a couple of Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant, he told me “I’ve been thinking” and my mouth actually dropped open in utter amazement. When I recovered from my own shock, I said OK.

We had seen a news clip that women who conceive at an older age live longer. I was 44 years old at the time. My GPs nurse practitioner during a counseling session over my cholesterol levels learned I was trying to conceive (we’d been doing all the usual things – timing intercourse, ovulation predictors and pregnancy tests – to no avail). She said to me, “I’m not saying you are infertile but at your age, you have no time to waste” and referred me to her own fertility specialist who was also an OB.

The night before our appointment, we saw another news clip that indicated my chances of conceiving were technically zero due to my age. I remember going to the place alongside the perennial stream that flows past our house to the gravel bar where I married my husband. Hugging our witness tree, I cried because my husband married a woman too old to give him what he was now wanting.

At the doctor’s office, we saw the very last egg in my ovary on ultrasound. The doctor gave us some kind of shot to give it a boost but it failed to produce a pregnancy. While we were there, he said to us – there is another way – and described donor egg technology to us. We utilized a website for matching couples with women volunteering to donate their fertile eggs. We selected one that my husband noted, one of her answers matched my own philosophies in life. She turned out to be a good choice. A mother with 3 children already of her own. She has donated to at least one other couple we know of but we do not know the outcome of that effort for not all assisted reproductive technology efforts succeed. In my online cycle group, only about 50% did.

The doctor in the town our donor was living in at that time did 4 procedures that year with only one success – ours.

Having now learned about the way an infant bonds with its mother in the womb, I’m grateful we rejected adoption as our means to becoming parents. Our donor subsequently donated a second time to help us conceive our second son. Therefore, our two sons are fully genetically and biologically the same – and yet very different people. They have their natural father as a mirror as well. Each of them is some part but not wholly the same as their dad. I marvel that I must love my husband a lot to want 3 of him – though of course, as I just acknowledged that is not 100% the truth.

At some point I became aware of a woman in my Mothers Via Egg Donation online support community who was researching a book. It is titled Creating Life Against The Odds – The Journey From Infertility To Parenthood. The author is Ilona Laszlo Higgins MD FACOG. For contributing our experience to her research, I was given a signed copy of her book. She wrote in the title page – “To Deborah and Stephen who undertook this special journey to bring Simeon and Treston into their lives! With love, Lonny”

Today, my oldest son celebrates his 20th birthday. I have referred to him as my savior because it was in trying to conceive him that I discovered I was positive for hepatitis C. Otherwise, I may have destroyed my liver without ever knowing this virus was there by drinking too many alcoholic based drinks. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since learning about it.

I had to fight with the doctors at the hospital where my c-section took place 20 years ago today to be allowed to breastfeed my son. The lactation consultants there came to my defense. I nursed him for over a year (and at 18 months, each boy tested negative for the hepC virus). When he was about 3 months old, we embarked on a long journey that eventually caused us to traverse through about half of these United States in the Eastern part of the continent. I nursed him in public everywhere we went and to be honest, I had the right kind of clothes to do so with subtlety.

I share all of this to encourage women struggling with any kind of infertility to consider this method. Your baby will be born to the woman in who’s womb the baby grew, who’s heartbeat and internal processes has been the background noise of its development, who’s voice the baby has always known. This is all every baby that is born desires in life – to be with its natural mother. My sons do not have my genes but in every other way, no other person is more their mother than I am.

Not long ago, I read an essay by a woman with a great attitude. She was donor conceived. She accepts that she would simply not be who and how she is any other way. It is my hope that my sons will also understand their origins with that clarity of acceptance. It isn’t all that different than my own self understanding that if both of my parents had not been given up for adoption, I would not exist.

Sometimes the honest truth is the best. We have always been truthful with our sons without making a big issue about their conception. With the advent of inexpensive DNA testing, I’m glad we chose the path often referred to in donor conception support groups as “tell”. Their donor did 23 and Me. Then, I gifted my husband with a kit, then my oldest son with a kit and finally my youngest son with a kit. The youngest one was only slightly disappointed that he didn’t have any of my genes. But I am still “Mom” to him and we remain very close at heart – where it truly does matter.

Surrogacy Is A Separation

I have known of two cases of surrogacy directly.  Both utilized donor eggs.  One was a mother who was being treated for cancer.  She did die when the twins were about 2 years old and the father, who was directly their genetic father, remarried.  The other one is a family member.  The wife takes a lot of drugs to manage her mental health issues.  They had a lot of failures but did eventually succeed and the little boy is now 5 year old and I am happy for my brother in law that he could be a father.

I didn’t question the practice at all until I began to discover my own genetic roots (both of my parents were adopted).  As part of that journey, I began to learn a lot of things about infant development. No matter how you spin it, babies are being separated from the woman they’ve shared a home with for 9 months. The woman whose body nurtured and cradled them. They know her scent, her heartbeat. That’s who they know. And they are born and handed to someone who smells different, some stranger they don’t know.

There have also been cases where a surrogate mother became so bonded with the infant in her womb that it took a court case to separate them and contracts between a couple and a surrogate are much more explicit now about what is being done and for whom.

It hasn’t been all that long since The Handmaid’s Tale was making current news and the forcing of women to complete a pregnancy they don’t want for the purpose of handing their baby over to a prospective adoptive couple, often with undertones of evangelical Christianity seeking to convert the world to their philosophies, is very real even now.

One woman commenting on this situation admitted, “I seriously considered being a gestational carrier (their baby in my body, not my biological child) and when I learned about adoption trauma I knew I could never do it. How awful to take a baby from their only life connection. It’s cruel. It only serves to gratify the adults’ needs.”

One Retail DNA Test Away From Truth

If a child has been adopted or conceived via sperm or egg donor, that information is significantly about who that child is at a biological level and they deserve to know the truth.  That truth can be introduced in age appropriate bits.

Withholding that information would be a lie and it is simply wrong.

Before anyone embarks on adopting a child or decides to utilize advanced reproductive assistance in order to become a family, it is important to become comfortable with what you are doing – BEFORE you do it.  If necessary, seek counseling regarding your infertility issues.  Denial will come back to haunt you.

There’s no reason for shame, no matter what medical assistance you needed, which includes IVF.  Adoption, however, has its own unique circumstances.  Every prospective adoptive parent needs to learn as much as possible about its impacts on every member of that triad before becoming embroiled.

The Blessings Of DNA

This morning I was reading, repeatedly, the sad stories of mothers who gave birth and were denied an opportunity to hold their newborn babies because they had made a decision to surrender their child for adoption.  I suppose some psychologist at some time decided this was a wise course of action – though totally misguided in reality.

Then, I read a story about a woman who surrendered a daughter 17 years ago and now she has shown up as a match at Ancestry because this young woman had her DNA checked.  My adoptee mom tried this too without any real results but she was so ahead of her time.

The availability of inexpensive DNA testing has been a large measure of my own success in discovering ALL 4 of my original grandparents (both of my parents were adoptees).  It has played an interesting role in my own life as well.  I have two children conceived with the help of a donor egg as I had passed reproductive age when my husband wanted to have children (we married with him being happy I’d been there, done that, no pressure on him).

Because of my own unique heritage, I have now given to each of my sons DNA test kits for 23 and Me.  I also gave my husband one.  It is a bittersweet decision because our donor has also had her DNA tested.  Though my children grew in my womb and nursed at my breast and have known only my own self as their mother for decades, at 23 and Me it now shows that another woman is their mother.  We are a brave new world of people but there is nothing un-natural or unusual about my children.

My donor said to me, “Who would have thought this could happen 20 years ago?” and that is the truth.  Families touched by “adoption” of some sort are legion now and the tools to reconnect all the threads of our existence are within easy reach of every one of us.

I prefer reality to fantasy and live with the truths.